ISLAMABAD: At least two Pakistan Army soldiers were killed as Indian troops fired across the Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Thursday. The Pakistani military confirmed the deaths of its soldiers yet dismissed the Indian claim of 'surgical strikes'.
"There had been cross border fire initiated and conducted by India which is [an] existential phenomenon," said an ISPR statement released shortly after the Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) held a press conference making claims about surgical strikes.
India strikes, Pakistan responds
An exchange of fire between Pakistani and Indian LoC troops began at 2:30am and continued till 8:00am in the Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the ISPR statement said.
"Pakistani troops befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing on the LoC."
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said nine soldiers were injured during the incident, and added that small firearms were used to respond in a "befitting manner".
Shortly after the exchange of fire, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Defence held a joint press conference in New Delhi in which DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh alleged that surgical strikes were conducted by the Indian army on "terror launch pads along the LoC". The strikes will not continue, he said.
The Indian DGMO claimed that "some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control".
"The Indian army conducted surgical strikes last night at these launchpads. Significant casualties have been caused to these terrorists and those who are trying to support them... The operations aimed at neutralising the terrorists have since ceased."
Sources quoted by Indian media alleged that Indian para commandos went 2-3 kilometres into AJK in Mi-17 choppers and destroyed six 'terror camps', killing at least 38 suspected terrorists along with Pakistan Army troops.
Singh said the decision to launch the strikes had been taken after the military determined the launchpads had been set up with "an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir and various other metros in our country."
An Indian military source said the operation was carried out on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control where there were between five and seven infiltration “launchpads”.
“It was a shallow strike. The operation began at around midnight and it was over before sunrise,” this source, who had been briefed by his superiors on the operation, said. “All our men are back. Significant casualties inflicted. Damage assessment still going on.”
A Pakistani military officer at Chhamb, near the LoC, contradicted the Indian version, saying the attack had been repelled. “They ran back, leaving many dead bodies on their side,” this senior officer said.
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Military rubbishes notions of surgical strike
The Pakistan military swiftly rubbished notions of a surgical strike.
"The notion of surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by Indian to create false effects," a military statement said.
"This quest by the Indian establishment to create media hype by rebranding cross-border fire as a surgical strike is fabrication of the truth. Pakistan has made it clear that if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil, the same will be strongly responded."
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) said Pakistan’s airspace would be safeguarded at any cost. "PAF is always alert and ready to issue a befitting response to foreign aggression," a spokesperson said.
Indian authorities ordered the evacuation of villages in Punjab near the Pakistan border on Thursday amid fears of retaliation from Islamabad following India’s claim of surgical strikes against “terror launchpads” across the LoC, Hindustan Times reported
'India fooling its own people'
Pakistan, rejecting ‘baseless’ Indian claims that it carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan, condemned unprovoked ceasefire violations across the LoC, Radio Pak reported.
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Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said, "India’s falsified, concocted, and irresponsible statements can only escalate the already-fragile security situation in the region."
Zakaria added that India had deliberately escalated tension at the LoC in order to divert attention from the deteriorating situation in held-Kashmir. “India is trying to make fool of its own people and the international community,” he maintained.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the incident, according to Radio Pakistan. "Our intent for a peaceful neighbourhood should not be mistaken as our weakness," the premier said.
National Security Adviser Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua submitted a comprehensive report on the LoC situation to the prime minister, Radio Pakistan reported. Nawaz is also being briefed regularly on the situation along the LoC by security institutions.
Indian High Commissioner summoned
The Foreign Secretary summoned the Indian High Commissioner today and rejected the baseless Indian claim of ‘surgical strikes’.
Unprovoked firing by Indian troops across the LoC was also condemned in the meeting.
“These incidents are a continuation of a pattern of ceasefire violations committed by India”, said the Foreign Secretary.
He added that the armed forces of Pakistan will continue to give a befitting response to any act of aggression.
The latest incident of cross-border firing comes as tensions simmer between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue.
Last week, India initiated a diplomatic drive to isolate Pakistan after blaming it for the Sept 18 attack on the Uri army camp in IHK which killed 18 soldiers ─ a claim which Pakistan has rejected.
Tensions between the South Asian rivals have been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in IHK following the killing by Indian forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.
On Wednesday, India pulled out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit scheduled to be held in November in Islamabad. Several other Saarc members followed suit, leading to the postponement of the summit.